Sochi-Olympic-GamesThis is a pretty impressive statement…“The threat level is higher than it has ever been for any other sporting event since 9/11.” This very straightforward statement was delivered by Dr. Gordon Woo, a catastrophist for RMS…I love that title!  I want that on my business card! Catastrophist!

Woo is chief architect of the RMS One Terrorist Risk Model created in 2002. He has an M.S. in computer science from Cambridge University and a Ph.D. in mathematical science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He assesses the likelihood of catastrophic events such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and infectious diseases.

To develop a risk model, RMS analyzes a number of factors and in this case that includes: the actual number of attacks, number of plots and threats and amount of counter-terrorism activity. The risk model also takes into account the capabilities of a country’s defense service.  As for other heightened risk factors, Dr. Woo commented that “Russian intelligence is not as strong as that of MI-5 or the [National Security Agency]” and “Sochi’s proximity to the Caucasus mountains also exacerbates the threat.

The recent attacks near Volgograd, the efforts of the Russian government to eliminate the threats, and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. “This is a hot target that they cannot afford to miss not only because it is the Olympics, but because it would be an attack on Putin himself.” “Previous Olympic Games were politically neutral, but this one is very different,” he says while mentioning that none of the previous Olympic Games had an affiliation with a particular leader. “These are Putin’s games, his reputation stands on it being successful, and an attack during these games would be an attack on Putin himself,” he explains. He mentions that Putin’s recent statements regarding the attacks in Volgograd may be interpreted as a challenge as “He threatened to wipe them out…and this could be interpreted as an invitation for a response.”

Sochi will be the most expensive Olympic Games ever as it will cost an estimated $50 billion to transform the warm resort town into a winter paradise. “They could have had the games in northern Russia and the climate there would have been better because the local temperature in Sochi is more suited to growing palm trees,” he says. “Putin chose Sochi because it is a resort area that he favors.” Screen Shot 2014-02-06 At 7.16.45 Am

He advises travelers to arrive early and leave a few days after the games to avoid peak travel times when there will be the highest risk of an attack on public transportation. In spite of all of the controversy and threats surrounding the Olympics, he finishes by saying “people should live their lives normally rather than giving into threats.”